This Is Why You’re Not Getting a Christmas Card From Us This Year (or maybe ever again)

6 12 2012

No More Christmas Cards explains how we came to our decision to NOT send Christmas cards this year.

So, the winner of what would have been our Christmas money was Safe Haven Family Shelter, by almost a 3-1 vote.  I was introduced to Safe Haven almost two years ago, and since then, both Caleb and Jason have joined me on various occasions to help provide dinner for the residents.

Besides the money issue, the other reason you are not getting a Christmas card from us is because this is it!  SURPRISE dear readers!  We’re going all-digital this year.

Many of you keep up with us via Facebook anyway, so you already know our year in review.  For those who don’t, here you go:

The Huddleston 2012 Year in Review

Matthew continues to teach physics and launch high altitude balloons at Trevecca Nazarene University.  He loves his job, and even took on the challenge of hosting a national high altitude balloon conference at TNU in June.

He finished his first (and possibly, probably, hopefully last) full marathon in April.  His goal was an ambitious 4:00, but he made it around 4:25.  This is incredibly impressive considering he only “trained” once each week . . . most of the time.

He has also completed several mud runs, the latest rage in running races around the country.  Now that he’s in a new age bracket, he will probably start placing and winning some nice prizes.

On a heavier note, Matthew’s dad, Mark, was diagnosed with colon cancer in October.  He had surgery just a few days after.  The doctors thought they got all of the cancer, but subsequent tests showed a spot on a lymph node.  He is currently undergoing chemo therapy once every two weeks for six months.  His doctors remain very optimistic, but we’d still appreciate your prayers for complete healing and for strength and endurance for Mark and Martha during this time.

Kelly (me) continues to teach technology and journalism/graphic design at Franklin Road Academy.  I also love my job.  I did NOT do a ½ (or full) marathon this year, and I feel great!  Triathlons are my new thing (My First Triathlon).  Having successfully finished three of them, I can no longer qualify for placings in the Beginner category.  However, being really a really weak swimmer, mediocre bicyclist, and slow runner, I wouldn’t qualify for placings in any category anyway.  Maybe when I’m 80 and still doing triathlons will I win something.

Gourmet cupcakes are my newest indulgence so if you are ever looking for a gift . . .  (I also love chocolate and a good extra sharp cheddar cheese.)  However, I really need to be eating more fruit and vegetables, so a membership in some sort of fruit-of-the-month club would be a better gift.

Matthew and Kelly’s (our) international trip this year took us to Nicaragua in July.  We met another one of the kids we sponsor through Compassion International.  Always an eye-opening, life-changing event, you can read about it here:  Open My Eyes.  You can also read about the amazing amount of fun hell we had as we hiked a volcano on Ometepe Island.

Next year’s trip is another once-in-a-lifetime trip:  india!  For three weeks we will traverse a good chunk of the country in June.  The first 10 days or so will be spent in Chennai and traveling up the Indian Ocean coast of south eastern India, mainly to visit two more kids they sponsor through Compassion International (link) as well as spend some time with a friend who pastors a church in a small village there.  During the second half of the trip, we will get to play tourist:  visit the Taj Mahal, ride elephants and camels in the dessert, visit Agra, Jaipur, New Delhi, and take a boat tour along the Ganges River in Varanasi, the heart of the Hindu culture.  Expect great blog posts to come from this adventure.

Other big news for 2012 included placing membership in a new church, Priest Lake Christian Fellowship.  Our former home church group, the Gathering, fizzled out as families found new churches around the Nashville area, so we started looking, too.  Being less than a mile from our home was a great benefit, but the people were the main draw.  We have never been to a more humble church where the Holy Spirit is so alive and thriving among its members.  It’s inspiring and challenging and moving each week.

Caleb is in fourth grade at Franklin Road Academy and continues to love school and excel in his academics.  To brag on this child for a moment, he has yet to receive a B in any term grade since he started PK.  He’s got his Daddy’s brains and aptitude for math and building things.  Caleb continues to love all things Star Wars, but his Pokemon obsession (thank goodness!) has come to an end.  If you know of anyone interested in buying a 700+ card Pokemon collection, please let us know.

Caleb’s newest obsession is legos.  The kid lives and breathes legos, which we are fine with.  He actually builds some really cool things, like a working flashlight—complete with an on/off lever and working bulb.

Caleb is also learning to play the recorder and trumpet, and we (as in Kelly) are trying desperately (and futilely) to get him to sing “This Song is Just Six Words Long” by Weird Al Yankovic in the Fourth Grade Variety Show in January.  Weird Al is another recent obsession of Caleb’s, and being the cool parents we are, for his birthday we bought him tickets to see Weird Al in concert in April when he comes to Nashville.

Caleb is a Webelo scout this year, and is a popcorn selling machine!  He sold over $1500 to win first place again in his cub scout pack.  He won an archery set, 8% of his total sales in cash, a $50 Walmart gift card, an LED head lamp, a patch, Predators’ tickets, and a trophy.  (Don’t get me started on winning trophies for something like selling popcorn.  Let’s just say, I’m not a fan of the practice.)

Caleb’s most exciting adventure this year, though, was his ER trip that led to a hospital stay for a couple of days at the end of August for pneumonia.  Despite this bump in the road, we are still tremendously blessed.  His asthma and allergies have plagued him something fierce this fall, much worse than normal.  We have an appointment with an asthma/allergy specialist next week so we are praying for something to help manage this better.

Jason started preK at FRA this year, and is loving it.  Being the second child, we did not work with him on things like the alphabet, drawing, writing, or reading much (hardly at all) before he started school.  Thankfully, the kid has a mind like a sponge and is taking off in the writing and reading department.  He also loves to draw.

Jason, too, is obsessed with Star Wars and legos.  At three he could recite entire scenes from Star Wars.  I’m not sure if I should be proud or embarrassed by this.  Did I mention he was three at the time?  The kid can build lego creations with the best of them . . . well, maybe not a working flashlight yet, but he can build really cool spaceships, race cars, jails, mouse traps, and monsters.

Jason and Caleb took their first official swimming lessons this summer.  Lesson 1 involved Jason crying and screaming for the full 45 minute session.  He had snot running out of both nostrils to his belly button when I picked him up.  He only cried for about 15 minutes of lesson 2, and by lesson 3 he was actually excited to go.  Now, of course, the kid is terrified to put his head in the water, which reminds Kelly of herself as a child forced to take swimming lessons.

Packer, our dog, continues to love to eat anything that falls on the floor including baby spit-up (true story) as well as grass to later make herself throw-up said baby spit-up.  She loves to sleep during the day and wake us up around 4:00 a.m. to pee and play.

Finley Bubbles the VIII, our beta fish, didn’t last the year.  At this time, we are uncertain if we will buy Finley Bubbles the IX.

Hopes and prayers for 2013:

  • Good health for everyone
  • A safe and amazing trip to India
  • Jobs we love
  • Caleb and Jason would continue to grow and mature in their faith, following Christ
  • Matthew and Kelly possibly beginning a new Marriage Builders home church group
  • Kelly hopes to begin working on her MBA at Trevecca in the fall

As we reflect back and look forward, may we always remember WHY we celebrate.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son,
who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
-John 1:14

Love and prayers to all,
the Huddleston Family

PS.  If any of you find yourselves in Nashville and need a place to stay, we’ve got plenty of room and love house guests.


Developing a Servant’s Heart

25 01 2012

A couple weeks ago, I bought a Contributor newspaper from a homeless man on our way home from school.  This is a monthly occurrence, and Caleb is almost always in the backseat when I purchase a paper.  The exchange typically goes something like this:

     Me:  Caleb, quick!  Get my wallet and see if you can find a $5.00.

     Caleb:  Okay!  (fumble, fumble, fumble)  Here!  Did we get it in time?

     Me:  (Rolling down the window and signaling to the vendor) Yes.  Thank you for your help, Caleb.

     Vendor:  Thank you Miss, and God bless!

It’s usually short and sweet, but two weeks ago, the conversation didn’t stop there.

(Caleb is well acquainted with the Contributor and its mission.  The Contributor is a street newspaper that seeks to provide diverse perspectives on homelessness as well as provide the homeless and formerly homeless with a source of income as they sell the papers.)  Our conversation continued:

     Caleb:  I can’t wait till I’m older.  I’m going to buy one of the newspapers every time I see someone selling it.

     Me:  Why wait?

     Caleb:  What do you mean?  I can’t drive.

     Me:  (laughing out loud just a little)  No.  That’s not what I meant.  Why do you have to wait until you’re older before you can help them?

Silence ensued, but I knew a seed had been planted.  The wheels of Caleb’s mind were furiously turning.

     Caleb:  What if we took my giving money and I could buy them a meal?  Or, we could go shopping, and I could buy a bunch of snacks and make a bunch of bags and give them to a bunch of people.

     Me:  I like this idea.  What would you put in the bags?

As we talked the rest of the way home, we settled on the following items for each bag, figuring this was within his budget from his Giving envelope:

  • 1 bottle of water
  • 1 apple
  • 1 travel-sized container of apple sauce
  • 2 granola bars
  • 4 snack-sized candy bars
  • 1 plastic spoon
  • 1 napkin
  • 1 note from Caleb simply saying, “God bless you!”

Caleb was SOOOO excited by the time we got home.  He couldn’t wait to tell his Dad that night or his teacher the next morning.  (I also couldn’t wait to brag on my son to my friends, either.)

We went shopping at both Walmart and Publix.  Caleb was able to double some of his offerings in each bag thanks to Publix amazing BOGOs that week.  Then we set up a little assembly line on our kitchen counter.  When all was said and done, Caleb made 15 bags.

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grocery list and receipts

grocery list and receipts

assembly line

assembly line

working on the assembly line

working on the assembly line

the goodies for each bag

the goodies for each bag

completed bags

completed bags

We handed out the first three bags yesterday on the way to and from school.  To say Caleb was excited is an understatement.  I actually got a little teary-eyed seeing witnessing Caleb’s pure joy when the last guy came back to the van and personally thanked Caleb for blessing him.  Caleb now keeps his eye open for anyone on the side of the road we can help.

Over the past couple of weeks while talking about this and planning it with Caleb as well as sharing about this with others, God has reminded me of a few of my responsibilities as a parent.

It is my duty as a parent, before it is anyone else’s duty, to develop my child’s heart.  

  • If I want my sons to be giving, generous, servant-hearted men, I must model those same attributes for them.  Caleb joins me on just about every volunteer excursion I undertake, from serving meals at the Ronald McDonald House, Hope Lodge, or Safe Haven Family Shelter to dropping off items at Goodwill to bringing food to families with new babies to helping pick out food to donate at school food drives.  I must be willing to give of my time and resources to bless others if I expect my children to do the same.
  • If I want my children to be financially responsible adults, I must set the right example with how I spend my money.  Do we live in debt, or do we purchase only what we can afford to pay for in full with cash?  Do we use our financial resources for selfish gain, or do we choose to honor God by giving back to His kingdom work a portion of what He has given us?  Caleb will be the first to tell you he didn’t initially like the idea of having to stash away some of his money for Saving and Giving.  He will also be the first to tell you now that he’s seen how that money can be used to bless others, he is completely on board with the plan we set up for him. The plan:  Caleb puts $1 away into his Giving Envelope and $1 into his Saving Envelope for each $10 he receives through his allowance, extra chores, or gifts.  Since we began this financial discipline system for him a little over a year ago, he’s amassed about $30 in each.  This was his first major Giving project.  (Read more about How to Train Your Child in the Ways of Financial Discipline.)
  • Developing a servant heart and financial responsibility are not one-time conversations.  Today we discuss the importance of giving and saving as well as spending wisely.  In the years to come those conversations will morph into more complex issues such as balancing checkbooks, whether or not to use credit cards, taxes, etc.  My parents and I still talk about money issues, for which I am very grateful.  The positive example they set for me in my youth is now being passed on to the next generation. 

I am so proud of my son and his developing servant heart.  He thought of this idea on his own, paid for the food with his own money, put together the bags himself, and only needed minimal guidance to bring it to fruition.  I eagerly look forward to his future and what God has in store for his heart.

Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
–Proverbs 22:6

Lessons Learned in 13.1 miles

2 05 2011

I ran my third ½ marathon on April 30, 2011.  The morning after the race, I read Psalm 121, which fit my experience on the course so perfectly.

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you—
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
-Psalms 121

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (v. 1-2)

Event planners changed the course up a bit this year to alleviate congestion in some areas.  I appreciated this, but the new course seemed to have more hills, longer hills, and steeper hills.  In those moments when I looked ahead and saw a hill looming in the distance, my first reaction was negative.  Thankfully, a few seconds later that negativity was replaced by simple, practical, mental encouragement.  “One step at a time.  Focus on what is directly in front of you.  You’ll be at the top in no time.  Slow down if you need to.  You don’t have to bulldoze ahead, there’s nothing to prove in doing that.  You’re one step closer.  And so on.”  Physically, that is what my body needed.  What a great reminder that in times of trial and discouragement, those are the same things my mind needs to remember spiritually.

There are also times when I get so bogged down on what is directly in front of me that I forget to look up and see the bigger picture.  I would have completely missed the grandeur of the start line—being in the midst of 35,000 runners lining West End for over one mile—had I not taken a moment to look up.

Country Music Marathon

Country Music Marathon - Nashville, TN - April 30, 2011 - 30,000+ runners

“He will not let your foot slip—he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

When I signed up for this race last fall, I had the expectation to finish under 2:10, knocking almost 20 minutes off my time from 2010.  In January, I pulled a pectoral muscle that put that goal to rest.  In fact, I had to slow way down, adding about 1.5 minutes back on to my per mile pace during my four months of training.  Going into race day, my prayers were simple. 

  • I didn’t care about my time.  I just wanted to finish, on my feet, without passing out or vomiting.
  • I didn’t want to have to use the restroom.  (Runners—you know what I’m talking about!)
  • I wanted to start and finish with my friends.

Indeed, God did not let my foot slip.  While I passed several people lying on the sidewalk needing medical assistance and saw way too many ambulances heading to and from the course, God answered every single one of my prayers.

“The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (v. 5-6)

After an incredibly rainy, stormy, windy, cold, tornado-y month, the weather on race day was perfect.  Cool, crispy, sunny.  I remember being very mindful to thank God for the shade on the road throughout the course.

“The Lord will keep you from all harm—he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forever more.” (v. 7-8)

Indeed, the Lord watches over me.  During the race, I was again reminded of the many, many things I have to be thankful for.

  • I am healthy and able to run 13.1 miles.
  • Wonderful neighbors took care of our boys over night since my husband and I had to get up obscenely early.
  • Other amazing friends got up obscenely early to drive us to the start line, encourage us along the way, cheer us on at the finish line, and bring us home.
  • The weather was perfect and shade trees lined the streets.
  • Anonymous fans provided sprinklers and hoses, water, GU, music, and humorous signs that made me smile.

One last thought.  I caught myself silently complaining on several occasions, “Why does this have to be so difficult?”  Each time, God reminded me that my life would be insanely boring without times where I really pushed myself.  Would I really enjoy a life where everything was easy?  Would I ever learn anything new?  I think I would become very lazy and arrogant living that lifestyle.  I would never know what I am truly capable of physically, mentally, or spiritually without those times of “disciplined challenge” in my life.  Whether it’s training for and running a ½ marathon or fasting, I thank God for his continual grace and the blessings that flow when I challenge myself.

Safe Haven

7 01 2011

Safe Haven Family ShelterUpon pulling into the parking lot, I saw kids of all ages playing outside.  Teens were playing pick-up basketball.  Younger kids were on the playground.  Mothers were playing chasing games with their toddlers.  I was engulfed in an enthusiastic, joyful energy.  These children were laughing and having fun, and I was reminded of my own two sons and the games they enjoy.  Only there was a world of difference between these families and my own—namely that of a home.

This past Monday night, I volunteered at Safe Haven Family Shelter, helping to provide dinner for the approximate two dozen residents who temporarily call this place home.  Their mission is to provide shelter and transitional services that empowers Middle Tennessee homeless families with children to achieve lasting self-sufficiency.   In Nashville, there are many places for homeless single men and women or even homeless women with children.  But what do you do if you are married with children and are homeless?  How about those homeless single men with children under their care?

Safe Haven Family Shelter is the only shelter in the Nashville area that serves the entire family unit.  They can accommodate 11 families at a time through a main shelter campus and 6 transitional homes, and the average length of stay is 65-85 days. 

Families are screened very carefully, yet there continually remains a wait list for a room.  Families must:

  • be a family unit, consisting of one or two parents and at least one minor child.
  • be drug and alcohol-free.
  • be in an emergency situation.
  • have never resided at Safe Haven before.
  • be willing to accept certain responsibilities at the shelter and abide by program rules. 

For example, residents must gain employment or be actively seeking employment, and once employed, they must save 75% of their income which goes into a savings account—a financial safety net once the family transitions back into mainstream housing.  Safe Haven also provides counseling and tutoring as well as parenting, job readiness, and budgeting classes.  Each family has a room of their own; however, they all share a dormitory-style bathroom.  All goods and services are provided free to residents.

 My experience on Monday was once again transformational.  I guess I was expecting a dismal, dark, and depressing place.  Instead, a brightly lit two-story Christmas tree welcomed me when I entered the building.  Children’s art decorated one wall in the dining area.  A half-wall filled with kids’ books enclosed a fun play area for babies and toddlers.  A TV was showing cartoons in the main, very open living area.  Two tweens were working on computers against another wall.  If someone hadn’t told me this was a homeless shelter, the thought wouldn’t have entered my mind.

Safe Haven Family Shelter

Safe Haven Family Shelter living area

Safe Haven Family Shelter

Safe Haven Family Shelter living area, private family bedrooms are along the back wall


Safe Haven Family Shelter

Safe Haven Family Shelter kitchen


Safe Haven Family Shelter

Safe Haven Family Shelter kitchen

Safe Haven Family Shelter

Safe Haven Family Shelter serving area

Safe Haven Family Shelter

Safe Haven Family Shelter library and children's play area

Safe Haven Family Shelter

Safe Haven Family Shelter playground

Once the kids heard we were serving pizza, pandemonium ensued.  Apparently most groups who prepare meals bring chicken casseroles and green beans—lots of green beans so I was told.  A healthy home-cooked meal is important, but a dinner of take-out pizza once every couple months—that’s a treat!  I was shamed when I thought of how often my family and our friends resort to take out, delivery or fast food just because it’s easy and convenient.  I think nothing of the cost of a pizza from Papa Murphy’s.  McDonalds just so the kids can get a junk toy?  No worries.  At least, it’s not a worry for us.  The residents of Safe Haven probably don’t worry about Happy Meals either.  I’m sure Happy Meals aren’t even on their mental radar when their thoughts are consumed with finding a job and a permanent home for their families.

Safe Haven Family Shelter

Safe Haven Family Shelter wish list

I talked to the Hands on Nashville project coordinator as well as the Safe Haven volunteer coordinator.  Besides providing meals, Safe Haven is continually looking for volunteers to help:

  • answer phones.
  • stay overnight—Safe Haven provides a guest room—or on the weekends.
  • lead and assist with art, drama, music, and athletic programs for the families.
  • tutor and mentor the children of the residents.

 Safe Haven also continually seeks donations in the forms of:

  • school uniforms.
  • men’s and women’s dress/business attire.
  • family-size hygiene products—shampoo, soap, deodorant, toothpaste, lotions, etc.
  • cotton sheet sets, comforters, pillows, bath towels, etc.
  • baby products—diapers, wipes, etc.
  • household cleaners, laundry and paper products.
  • unopened and sealed OTC medications—Tylenol, allergy and cold medicines—for adults and children.

Moving into a shelter can be a traumatic experience for anyone, but is often especially difficult for children.  Safe Haven likes to provide Comfort Kits to help make the transition a little easier by giving each child a special gift they can call their own—a luxury for a child who often has nothing but the clothes on his or her back.  The kits are simple to put together and can make for a great group activity.

  • Baby Comfort Kits can include:  a new bottle, formula, pacifier, rattle or other toy.
  • Toddler Comfort Kits can include:  a blanket, sippy cup, socks, and a small toy
  • School Age Comfort Kits can include:  a backpack filled with art/school supplies, journal, socks, football or hair brush/hair accessories.

If you would like to consider a major donation, there are ways you can adopt a family or become a guardian angel.  For more information on donating, visit Safe Haven Donation. 

Isaiah 32:18 states: My people will live in peaceful dwelling places, in secure homes, in undisturbed places of rest.”  This is the ultimate goal of Safe Haven.  They provide a safe, secure, temporary home while helping families find their own permanent home—a refuge, a place of undisturbed rest.

I look forward to serving at Safe Haven again.  Providing a meal is so simple, yet it means so much.  I am once again reminded of how exceedingly blessed my family is.

Hope Lodge

16 11 2010

I was surrounded by about 40 adult cancer patients.  Many were bald or had head scarves or hats on.  Most moved very slowly and needed the help of a walker or cane.  Some were very upbeat and positive.  Some were discouraged and seemed to know they didn’t have many more days left on earth.

On Monday, November 15, I had the privilege of participating in a group dinner for residents of Hope Lodge—the adult equivalent to the Ronald McDonald House (RMDH).  (Read about my experience:  The Blessing of Cooking for Strangers.)

A little background first.  Hope Lodge was begun by the American Cancer Society (ACS) to “offer cancer patients and their families a free, temporary place to stay when their best hope for effective treatment may be in another city.”  The Hope Lodge in Nashville has 42 rooms, and there is usually a wait list.  Like the residents of the Ronald McDonald House, some stay for months at a time during their treatments.  Others stay for just a few days at a time.  There are 30 Hope Lodges around America.

This was a much bigger project than the RMDH.  There were 15 volunteers—strangers to one another—who came together to provide a home-cooked meal for these patients.  Unlike the RMDH, groups are not knocking down the doors to provide a meal.  Other than the twice-monthly meal that Hands On Nashville coordinates (the group I was with), the Hope Lodge residents don’t get a home-cooked, free meal very often.

Their gratitude was overwhelming to me.  Such a simple act—providing a warm home-cooked meal—meant so much to them.  And a meal spread out among 15 people doesn’t even equate to that much work for any one person or family.

I left with my own sense of gratitude that my family is healthy.  I needed this reminder, that despite our occasional colds and allergy issues, we are very, very blessed.  I take our good health for granted far too often.

Finally, I left feeling completely refreshed after a long, busy day at work.  Sadly, I am too often exhausted and worn out after a service project, but not this time.  I’m not sure what the difference was, but I am grateful.  I am already signed up for next month.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

  “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

  “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
-Matthew 25:34-40

Ragnar Relay 2010 – Running in Honor of a Norse King

9 11 2010
Ragnar logo195.5 miles + 10 runners + rain, snow, sleet + total sleep deprivation + temperatures between 20-40 degrees + 31:15:01 hours of non-stop running from Chattanooga to Nashville = Ragnar Relay = one of the most amazing, brutal and rewarding physical feats I’ve ever accomplished.

I first heard about the Ragnar in late April, right after I finished my second ½ marathon.  Ragnar is a 9th Century Norse King:  a pirate, an explorer, a raider, a conqueror, a wild man.  The Ragnar Relay embodies all these qualities and is definitely not for the faint of heart, mentally or physically.  Teams consist of 12 runners (or six runners if they do the ultra) who each run 3 legs ranging from 2.7 to 8.9 miles, non-stop from Chattanooga to Nashville, 195.5 miles total.  (Or in our case, 198 miles due to a missed turn on leg 34.)

Ragnar TN 2010 course

Ragnar TN 2010 course

Several friends and I talked about getting a team together, and by the end of July, we were registered as Team 109:  Smells Like Team Spirit.  By September, our roster was finalized with 10 runners instead of the usual 12.  Two of our runners would be “ultras,” meaning they would run 2 legs back-to-back, three times.  Once we got our order worked out, I was responsible for legs 11, 23, and 35 of the race.

The first five runners (Carrie, Josh, Michelle, Andrew, and Chassi) were in van 1 and had to be at the start line in Chattanooga by 9:30 a.m. which meant a very early start to their day.  I was in van 2 so we didn’t leave Nashville until noon to meet up with Van 1 at exchange 6.  (Each point where runners pass the “baton” is called an exchange.)

Van 1

Van 1 and their "inspirational" message. (Carrie, Chassi, Michelle, Josh, Andrew)

Van 2

Van 2 at exchange 6 (Echo, Lee, Kelly, Meg, Matthew was MIA)

Van 2

Van 2's inspirational message

Van 2

Van 2 - The TN RagMag did a feature story on me overcoming my asthma through running (page 1).

Our excitement was palpable on the drive down, although I was a little sad Matthew, who was the runner right before me, was not with us.  He had a work engagement to attend to, but he met up with us right before his first leg.  The runners in van 2 were Lee, Echo, Meg, Matthew and myself.  Sky, Meg’s husband, drove for us.  We all knew each other pretty well, except for Lee who was a new-comer to our group, but what an amazing blessing he turned out to be!

There are hours worth of stories to tell from our discussions in the van about rotting bananas, body odor, Snickers, Motrin versus Tylenol, and the various digestive issues several runners were experiencing.  However, I’m going to focus the rest of this post on my own experience.

Kelly at leg 11

Waiting at leg 11 for my first leg to start. From 4:00 p.m. to 8:00 a.m. all runners were required to wear full protective gear: reflective vest, headlamp, and LCD light on the back.

My first leg was leg 11:  5.3 miles through the University of the South in Sewanee.  I began around 8:00 p.m., and the temperature was already in the 40s, the coldest weather I’ve ever run in.  I was nervous going into the race because cold weather has always been a trigger for an asthma attack, and I do not train in cold weather.  I was amazed that my breathing was fine; I had no issues with my asthma.  This was the first of several victories I had during the race.  Six years ago, I could not run for one minute at a very slow pace without wanting to collapse and needing a puff of my inhaler.  Three days ago, I was running a sub-10-minute mile in 40 degree weather.  Though this was the longest of my three legs, it was the easiest, flattest, and fastest.

Leg 11

Leg 11

Leg 23

Leg 23

My second leg was leg 23:  4.6 miles northwest of Shelbyville (middle of nowhere TN).  I started this one at 4:00 a.m., and the temperature had dropped another 20 degrees.  This was the loneliest of my runs.  In the 4.6 miles, I encountered one other runner.  I am so, so thankful for my teammates in van 2 and their incredible encouragement during this leg.  They would drive ahead a mile, wait for me on the side of the road, and cheer me on ridiculously until I passed.  Repeat four more times.  We did this for all our runners, but that little extreme burst of encouragement meant the world to me.

Physically I was tired, having been awake for almost 24 hours at this point.  Most of my thoughts during this leg were simply:  “You can do this.”  “This is what you’ve been training for.”  “You’re closer to the finish than you were a few minutes ago.”  “A few more steps.”   Etc.  Etc.  Etc.  I also had this horrible, horrible HP commercial jingle repeating in my head for many minutes at a time:  “I’ve got a pair of brand new roller skates, you’ve got a ??? in me. . .”  Only, for some reason I replaced roller skates with underpants thinking it was an ad for some new toddler pull-up training underwear.  I tried to compute Fibonacci series in my head, but that jingle would always sneak back.  I want to scream every time I hear that commercial now.

During this leg, more so than any other, I was struck by the realization that people were praying for me.  I don’t expect anyone was actually awake between 4:00 and 5:00 a.m. praying for my running, but I felt those prayers in a very tangible way.

Once we all finished our second legs, we had about five hours of down time till our third legs began.  Lee’s house was only two miles from our last major exchange, so he invited us all to crash at his house.  He called his wife, and a van of six smelly strangers showed up at their door around 5:30 a.m.  Most immediately found space on the floor or couch and promptly fell asleep.  I opted for a hot shower first and crawled into their guest bed.  What a blessing those two hours of sleep were, in a real bed, with access to a real bathroom.  Port-a-potties get really old in below-freezing weather.

After that rest, some lunch at Chick-Fil-A and more driving and cheering, my final leg began around 4:00 p.m.  It was by far the toughest.  I had gotten about two hours of sleep total in the past 36 hours, and the course was incredibly hilly (for me anyway).  I was pretty psyched getting ready for it, but Matthew, who was the runner right before me, missed a turn and ran about two extra miles before finally making it to the exchange where I was to start.  Though I ran this one a lot slower than originally anticipated, I was proud that I ran the whole thing without walking.

Leg 35

Leg 35

This was the only leg I ran in the daylight, but it was still cold and windy.  My body temperature increased enough to make me sweat, but I never felt warm.  In fact, I kept shivering for almost two hours after I finished; I simply could not get warm.

Smells Like Team Spirit at the finish line

Team 109 Smells Like Team Spirit at the finish line, 31:15:01

Our team crossed the finish line together over 31 hours after Carrie started on leg 1.  Team 109 had finished in 109th place.  Though we were elated, amazed, and slightly crazy from sleep deprivation, I found the finish line festivities underwhelming.  Due to the cold, most teams left immediately after getting their medals so there were barely any people around.  We did take advantage of the boxes of free candy, granola bars, Wheaties, and fruit.

This race challenged me like none other.  It was cruel, brutal, and insane.

Sign me up for 2011!

Halloween 2010

1 11 2010
Our 2010 bounty, close to 10 lbs. of candy.

Our 2010 bounty, close to 10 lbs. of candy.

Halloween is a very lucrative holiday in the Huddleston house.  We count on getting enough candy to last us through to Easter.  Of course, six months down the road some of the candy may have turned into a blob of colored sugar, but as long as it is still sugar, someone in our family will eat it.

Our festivities started a few weeks ago when our home church group, the gathering, held its third annual fall party.  We have a potluck dinner, pumpkin carving contest, cupcake decorating and a piñata for the kids, and lots of fun. 

Most kids and adults simply copy off of a pumpkin stencil (and they are usually the ones that win).  Matthew and I try to come up with something creative and original.  We never win despite the obvious superiority of our pumpkins (I’m biased and I’m very competitive).  I often come up with the pumpkin design, but Matthew is the one who does the hard work of making it happen.  Our creation this year was a “Cannibal” pumpkin.  I thought we had a good chance of taking home the prize, but we tied for third.  Creativity and originality lost again to a darn stencil. 

Cannibal Pumpkin, created by Matthew, tied for 3rd place

Cannibal Pumpkin, created by Matthew, tied for 3rd place

Caleb standing over the first pumpkin he completely designed and carved by himself.

Caleb standing over the first pumpkin he completely designed and carved by himself.

I’ve already got next year’s pumpkin in mind.  (Did I mention I’m really competitive?)

This was my entry in the 2009 pumpkin carving contest.  I was very proud of this.  I did all the hot-gluing myself.  However, it didn't even make the top 3.

This was my entry in the 2009 pumpkin carving contest, "Owl pumpkin." I was very proud of this. I did all the hot-gluing myself. However, it didn't even make the top 3.

This was Matthew's entry in the 2009 pumpkin carving contest.  Sadly, it didn't make the top 3 either.

This was Matthew's entry in the 2009 pumpkin carving contest, "H1N1 Pumpkin." Sadly, it didn't make the top 3 either.

Our Halloween festivities continued on Saturday, October 30, with a 5-mile race, the Halloween Hunt, I participated in at Long Hunter State Park.  The morning was sunny and crisp, perfect running weather.  This was mainly a training run for the Ragnar Relay I am running in next weekend.  (I did this 5-mile run Saturday morning, another 5-mile run that night after hosting a dinner party for some colleagues and a third 4-mile run Sunday morning.)

I didn’t care about my time, though I was hoping to finish in less than an hour, which I did.   What I really wanted was to win the costume contest, or at least come in second.  I was a running refrigerator.   I had been working on this costume for about four weeks, and I am really proud of it.  This is the first homemade costume I’ve ever made. 

Running Refrigerator

Running Refrigerator

Running Refrigerator - there's even food inside!

Running Refrigerator - there's even food inside!

Note to self for future use—more padding on the arm holes and make them longer.   They were not quite large enough and resulted in a lot of painful chaffing.  Not a pretty sight.

So 51 minutes later, I finished the race, having run 5-miles wearing a box.  Other than the armpit thing, it was a pretty easy run.

The costume contest took place right after lunch.  I was disappointed that the voting was done in a “Gong Show” manner.  Who got the most/loudest applause won.  I made the top 5, and thought I had a good chance of taking first or second.  The only other creative, original costume was a pair of ladies dressed as the H1N1 “Swine Flu” virus, who eventually took first place.  Second place went to a “Go Go Girl” who literally wore a $20 costume in a bag from Wal-Mart.  Then the judge announced third place, an “Illegal Immigrant.”  The guy who won it was standing right next to me.  He looked at the judge quizzically, then looked at me, and then turned back to the judge and told him, “The refrigerator should have won.”  He then turned to me and repeated, “You should have won.” 

Did I mention I’m competitive?  I tried to keep a smile on my face as I left the area and walked to my car.  Several people stopped me on the way and told me, “You should have won.”  “You were my favorite.”  “You got jipped.”  That made me feel a little better, and the judge later ran up to me with the third place prize, $10.  So I came out ahead in the end since the race entry fee was only $6.  I’ll try again next year. 

Caleb as "Power Man" and Jason as "Bob the Builder"

Caleb as "Power Man" and Jason as "Bob the Builder"

Our festivities concluded on Halloween night with a trunk-or-treat at Lakeshore Christian Church.  Caleb dressed up as Power Man, a comic book superhero he invented about a month ago.  Jason went as Bob the Builder, a recycled costume from when Caleb was that age.  We got a truck-load of candy. 

That makes me very happy.  If it seems like the Huddleston clan is on a sugar rush, you’ll know why.

candy, candy, candy!

candy, candy, candy!

Happy Halloween!